The Social Network (2010)
Bringing Down the House: The True Story of Six MIT Kids Who Took Vegas for Millions, by Ben Mezrich, and real life events
Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Drama, biography, historical
In 2003, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg was dumped by his girlfriend. Some years later, he was the youngest billionaire in the world, being sued in two separate court cases over the website he invented, facebook. This is what happened in between.
I was looking forward to this film, not just because of the intriguing concept and story, but also--in fact, mainly--because of the screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, who is a master of his craft. As someone who has watched and can reenact numerous scenes and episodes from the first four seasons of The West Wing, who has The American President as one of his top five favorite movies, and who is one of the few people who remembers Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and wishes it hadn’t been cancelled, listening to the screenplay this man crafted was an incredibly enjoyable experience for me.
But let’s back up. Who is Aaron Sorkin, really? What does he do, and how did he exemplify his talent in this movie? Well, anyone who watched even a single episode of The West Wing (from the first four seasons, that is) knows that he is a master of fast-paced and witty dialogue. These characters are fast talkers, so much so that you know that these conversations were probably considerably less intellectually inspiring than Sorkin is making them out to be, and yet you literally do not care as you are watching.
This is basically a superficial aspect of his writing, however. What’s really happening in those lines of dialogue? When it comes to storytelling, Sorkin excels at two things: first, he enjoys stories that take place behind the scenes. Pretty much everything he’s written has taken place behind the scenes of something, and this is no different. We get a glimpse of the real people, flawed and human that they were, who were responsible for facebook becoming what it is. And second, he presents characters with both positive and negative attributes. Mark Zuckerberg is not an easy person to write a movie about, because he’s seen as a visionary by many, and an asshole by many more. It would be easy enough to lean either one way or the other with this, and this movie keeps it pretty even.
Part of that is due to the actor, of course, Jesse Eisenberg, who plays him as a fairly unlikeable and antisocial, and yet still sympathetic nerd. The point of this character is not that he be a good guy or a bad guy, but just . . . a guy. A smart kid who did some dumb things. The movie is, actually, not unlike other stories about people who were kind of looked down on, but had big ideas, started to make it big, and then sacrificed their principles to see the ideas get bigger.
But what makes this movie different is the fact this story is based on something that not only actually happened, but happened just a few years ago. Those of us who had facebook in its early years (and yes, I was one of them) remember the evolution of the idea. And this movie really does capture the early years of facebook, when facebook was “cool” and “facebook me” was a common phrase. It drops a lot of little things regarding the development of facebook, like the wall and newsfeed, and it’s fun to watch things develop that we watched happen. It also captures a lot of the college experience, positive and negative. Director David Fincher really does capture what those years were like for a lot of us who lived them, while still taking us on this somewhat heady ride of a kid who had an idea and made it big. For me, the most compelling moment of the film is when Zuckerberg is first sharing the idea with his friend. At other points, his motivation might be cryptic, but here, he is genuinely excited, not just about how huge this could be become, but just by the power of the idea.
This is a pretty dialogue-heavy show, of course, but what I noticed is that the dialogue is not where the heart of the story lies. So much of what is truly communicated in this story is not in the words, but in the silences, the glances that are exchanged, and the atmosphere this movie creates, all of which is a testament to brilliant directing and acting. Obviously there’s no suspense or tension in the court cases, but there’s not supposed to be. That’s just the vehicle for the story. I’ll admit I was a little lost in the first few minutes when we made our first jumps in time, but I got it after a while, and the story itself is easy enough to follow that you don’t really need to know exactly what happens when. Also, for all that it’s supposed to be a behind-the-scenes look at what happened, a lot of it is really left ambiguous. How truthful was Zuckerberg or any of the other characters really being? We don’t know. And the flashbacks don’t show us everything. But the point of this movie is not to expose the truth. The point is to show an evolution of an idea, and through that idea, the evolution of a character, and the sacrifices he will make, good and bad, to see that idea realized.
When this movie comes out on DVD, I would recommend you get yourself a copy. It is a must see for anyone who’s ever wanted to see an idea like this realized.